The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) is demanding a written guarantee from the government that Brexit won’t undermine British farming standards.
The union’s president Minette Batters will make the call at their conference later today amid growing concerns about the implications of Brexit for farming – whether a deal is struck or not.
She wants Environment Secretary Michael Gove, a leading Brexiteer, to commit to the establishment of a new commission to ensure cheap and badly produced food does not enter the UK food chain.
Ms Batters said: “I have asked the secretary of state to commit to ensuring that any future new trade agreements will not undermine British food standards.
“Put simply, a commitment that after Brexit the food Britain imports will be produced to the same standards which is legally required of British farmers.
“And when I say standards, I mean all of the high standards British farmers observe – often at considerable expense – in protecting the environment, safeguarding animal welfare and providing safe food.
“Mr Gove has said that ‘over his dead body’ would British standards be undermined.
“I don’t want it written in blood.
“I want it written in ink.”
Mr Gove will say in response: “We have been clear that we will not lower our standards in pursuit of trade deals, and that we will use the tools we have at our disposal – tariffs, quotas and legislation – to make sure standards are protected and you are not left at a competitive disadvantage.
“This is an idea which has a number of merits and we will be giving it full consideration.”
Food standards is just one part of a whole range of problems for British agriculture, with Brexit just weeks away and still no clarity on whether there will be a deal with the EU.
Sheep and arable farmer James Mills, whose family have farmed in the Vale of York for generations, told Sky News that they, like many other farmers, have no idea what their newborn lambs will be worth after Brexit.
Mr Mills said: “We are looking down the barrel of losing 30% of our market which is lamb that’s exported to Europe.
“If we lose that vital market we have to consider if our sheep are a viable part of our business going forward.”
With just five weeks to go until 29 March, Mr Mills said: “The danger is that people make snap decisions in response to uncertainty and we are not in a position where we can do that.”
The UK’s army of Eastern European workers who help harvest crops are also no closer to understanding the implications of Brexit.
Elina Kostadinova, harvest manager at Cobrey Farms in Herefordshire, told Sky News: “They are confused and we are confused trying to tell them the information from government.
“We think we have enough for this season but we don’t now how many will decide not to show up… it’s easier for them to stay in other EU countries like Germany or France.”
The government has introduced a seasonal worker scheme but it is capped at 2,500 workers. The NFU estimates up to 70,000 workers are required.